Author Topic: PC382: Of Blood And Brine  (Read 4372 times)


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on: September 23, 2015, 05:45:44 PM
PodCastle 382: Of Blood And Brine

by Megan E. O’Keefe
read by Jacquie Duckworth

First published in Shimmer magazine in Jan 2015.

Child walked the edge of the cold shore, bare feet sinking in rough sand. The red glare of the sun cast the pale beige granules in eerie, pink light, as if blood had been spilled across them and then diluted by the waves. Beak-pecked carcasses of sea creatures lay along her path, their poisonous flesh bulbous with tumors even after those few birds who could stomach them had picked them over. Why anyone would desire to smell like those wretched waters, Child could not guess.

The beach was empty, as it always was, save for a small group of mourning. They bundled their dead—two or three, she could not tell—onto a floating bier, set light the wooden slats, and shoved it out to sea. Child caught her breath, anger tightening her fists as flames licked up around the bier, revealing the wraps the dead had been sent to their rest within. Such a waste. But then, they had earned them. It was their right.

Rated PG

Megan E. O’Keefe writes speculative fiction and makes soap for a living — it’s only a little like Fight Club. Her debut novel, STEAL THE SKY, which centers around an airship heist, is due out from Angry Robot Books in Jan. 2016. Visit her website at or communicate with her via cat pictures on twitter @MeganofBlushie.

Jacquie Duckworth is a Bay Area actress, Teaching Artist, and Director of just about anything from Shakespeare to sketch comedy. She has one child in college and another starting next year and looks forward to embracing poverty with a plucky resourcefulness.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: October 13, 2015, 12:42:42 PM by Talia »

Father Beast

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Reply #1 on: September 24, 2015, 12:35:05 AM
I kind of liked it. A good Sci-fi post apocalyptic story with an interesting society having grown into being.

The idea that the custom is to expose their young people to the sun while they are trying to qualify for adulthood is particularly interesting. Those who aren't good enough at their work, or are too lazy to put the work in, either die or are permanently harmed by the sun. Either way, they don't breed. A curious way to have evolution in action.


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Reply #2 on: September 30, 2015, 02:53:09 PM
Interesting story where the veils necessary to survive outdoor without harm also necessitate another way to identify each other. 

it seems like there are scarce resources in this environment and so the requirements to become a named citizen are to give a structured way to handle that competition instead of allowing everyone to be protected from the sun and then have to fight or starve.

My take on Scentless is that Scentless was not actually drowned.  She was almost drowned and left for dead by her twin, and returned to find her twin had taken over her home and with it all of her perfumes that mark her as a citizen.  So she is left homeless and without identity.  I don't know where she got the currency to pay for the expensive scent, perhaps thievery or some trickery involving her weird ambiguous identity or maybe she was filthy rich before and happened to have that much cash on her person before her attempted murder.  In any case, she wants to commission the scent of the sea as a part of a plan to get revenge on her sister--I'm guessing she has plans to murder, but maybe she just wants to scare a confession out of her sister or scare her sister into fleeing, but she wants her sister to know who has come for her and to probably think she is being killed by a revenant.  Scent is the most evocative of the senses, and a society that uses it as a marker of identity would no doubt only emphasize that fact.  Murdering her sister in the sea, I imagine that the scent of the sea evokes the memory of that murder very strongly, and so if a strange assailant smelling of the sea attacks her it would bring to mind the sister-murder foremost to her mind.


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Reply #3 on: September 30, 2015, 09:08:56 PM
I would aim for Vanilla over Charred oak.

The snarky part of me is obligated to posit that Graeme would be Vegemite over Dingo. However, if I was being honest, it's probably Coffee over Toast. Maybe over fresh baked bread. Rachael would be Chai over Scuppernong jam.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #4 on: October 01, 2015, 07:04:42 PM
Perfume as villain monologue. The vial of plain cardamom-over-violet would allow Scentless to assume her sister's identity (or reassume her own identity?) after she has her revenge, and that scent with overtones of the sea all but announces her plan. The sister is already suffering a guilty fear, jumping at shadows. Soon she will be pursued by a shadow of herself, with just a hint of the scent of the dead.

I thought that scene at the shore did a particularly amazing job of setting up that association between the sea and death in the context of the story's setting. Sand the color of "blood... diluted by the waves", "beak pecked carcasses[...] poisonous flesh bulbous with tumors", mourners setting up a floating pyre for a bundle of corpses.

All in all, a gruesome tale, where the main character's price at securing her freedom and survival is becoming complicit in an act of bloody revenge. A very interesting setting, and a good story.


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Reply #5 on: October 01, 2015, 08:20:42 PM
Rachael would be Chai over Scuppernong jam.

That's just about perfect. Thanks, Fenrix! :D

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J.T. Evans

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Reply #6 on: October 09, 2015, 05:17:40 PM
This story gripped me from the start, slowed down a bit in the middle parts, but really ramped up at the end for a satisfying conclusion. The world building was fantastic, and this generally leads me to desire longer works in the world. However, for this go around, I was quite happy with the length of the work. I guess part of that comes from the fact that I don't have a good sense of smell, so I'm not sure I could easily identify or relate to the various smells (other than coffee!) given in the story.

Great work!

Father Beast

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Reply #7 on: October 10, 2015, 11:06:38 AM
Interesting story where the veils necessary to survive outdoor without harm also necessitate another way to identify each other. 

OK, I didn't catch that, but I still also point out that the not fully mature are exposed.

That people are identified by their scents makes for it being relatively easy for one person to impersonate another, which is brought out in the story.
It's kind of like everyone wearing one of those stickers they give out at parties - "HI, MY NAME IS 'Bob'"

My own sense of smell is not so sharp, so for me it would be as if most people were wearing a very small name badge which kept being hidden by the folds of their robes. Maybe that's why I didn't get into the scent stuff at the center of the story.

Father Beast

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Reply #8 on: October 18, 2015, 02:15:02 PM
I was at church recently, and a man came and sat next to me who was sucking on something mint, which caused me great distress. I didn't want to move and cause offense, but decided I had to after a minute when my eyeballs started to hurt. I have talked to people who have had a similar experience with their allergies and people wearing strong perfumes.

In the world of this story, where a person's name can be potentially offensive, it makes me sad that there would be some people who I would refuse to be around, simply because of their name, and not for any personality trait.


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Reply #9 on: October 28, 2015, 07:45:18 PM
My sense of smell is not very keen on differentiating different individual scents, but I am sensitive to getting migraines from scent overload--stores with shelves full of perfumed goods are a nightmare--I refuse to even walk into a Candleman store anymore, because I know I'll spend the rest of the day trying to shed the headache.  I suspect I would not do well in this society.


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Reply #10 on: November 02, 2015, 08:34:51 PM
Great story! The abusive/alcoholic mistress made me cringe so hard, but the revenge plot more than made that worth it. One would think that a society where one has to earn their name would have safeguards against those sorts of abuses, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part.


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Reply #11 on: March 01, 2016, 03:38:29 PM
I love that such a detailed world was built primarily on the sense of smell. While it's true that I would be more or less blind in such a world, I still appreciated the skill in which the story world was rendered!